In New London, trees have space to spread out; fields curve up and over the horizon. Draw a deep breath here in the hills, and you’ll start to remember the depths of your lungs. Or walk along Main Street, past Colby–Sawyer College, where the lifeblood of old maples plinks into metal buckets, and you’re reminded that tree tapping is mysterious and sap making is alchemy.
Founded in 1779 and, at an elevation of more than 1,000 feet, trumpeted by its energetic Historical Society as “one of the highest towns in New Hampshire,” New London is also more than that, riddled with lakes and cradled in the arms of mountains: Sunapee, Ragged, Kearsarge. Main Street runs like a ribbon through this panorama. A pleasing New England mix of Capes, colonials, farmhouses, and Victorians, it’s anchored by two bookends of substance: the college to the south and the New London Barn Playhouse to the north. In between, and spreading out to the lakes and mountains, there’s a library in which to lose yourself, an in-town farm stand, a busy Historical Society, an arresting nature shop, a lake at the edge of town—even a quaking bog. All within easy reach of I-89, which speeds you off to various other diversions in all directions.
First Impression: A scant 1.8 miles from town, the blacktop curves around Little Lake Sunapee. “Along these shores Indians once camped and fished,” according to an adjacent historical plaque, but by the 19th century, it was “a haven for vacationers’ summer homes.” The beach is loved by year-round and summer residents alike, and the water beckons you to launch a kayak.
The Reality: “There’s so much water—lakes and streams and bogs,” says John Kiernan at Village Sports, in the center of town. Besides Bucklin Beach on Little Sunapee, there are public beaches on Pleasant Lake (a sparkling 600-acre glacial gift) and Lake Sunapee (a 4,000-acre expanse with sailing, swimming, a yacht club, and a lively harbor). Mount Sunapee’s alpine trails are visible from Main Street, and hikes lead to spectacular lake views. “There are secret places,” Kiernan acknowledges, but he’s mum about the details. Even so, some treasures are hidden in plain sight: “My wife’s favorite place to kayak is still Little Sunapee,” he smiles.
First Impression: With water everywhere, surely there’s an affordable cottage to be had, maybe with a beach, a dock, or a view? Or a vintage farmhouse that just needs a few rough years scrubbed off?
The Reality: Proximity to I-89, a half-hour drive to Concord or Hanover, plus an in-town college, all put New London real estate in demand. “The mix of energy here makes it very enjoyable,” says Dan O’Halloran, a friendly agent at Colby Real Estate, who does double duty coaching 5- to 7-year-old skiers at Mount Sunapee. “The largest group is retirees, then vacationers with second homes, and then families.” Inventory moves quickly, but still there are bargains to be had. An older farmhouse that needed updating on Burpee Hill, the higher-rent district, just sold for $315,000. A chalet on Murray Pond Road, with 75 shared feet of waterfront and a boat mooring, sold for $355,000. And for $635,000, Dan will show you “an amazing waterfront cottage on Pleasant Lake on a quarter-acre of land.” He notes that “in outlying towns like Wilmot, Sutton, and Springfield you get a bit more for your money.” The tradeoff: higher taxes.
First Impression: There are all manner of diverse groups that welcome new faces, but front and center there’s Colby–Sawyer, opening its gates to residents who want to use the fitness facility and library.
The Reality: The New London Historical Society is active and imaginative, having assembled a tiny village of 19th-century buildings on a pretty patch of land near Little Lake Sunapee. Book groups meet at the town’s massive Tracy Memorial Library—a home and harness shop in 1823, then a hospital in 1918, before it morphed into a library in 1926. The magazine area is so inviting that “sometimes I hear snores coming from the room,” says one librarian. Seasonally, there’s a weekly farmers’ market on the green, while the college’s lifelong-education series matches you with others probing the depths of medieval religion or figure drawing. When the population swells in the summer, so do opportunities for friendships.
First Impression: A cross-section of students and locals converge at Graze, over house hummus, crispy chicken fingers, and cappuccino. (The Banks Gallery, an attached barn converted to a cathedral-like gallery space, shows local artwork.)
The Reality: Besides Graze, you can zip over to the solar-powered Flying Goose for pub grub and local brews. Peter Christian’s Tavern hearkens back to the ’70s with its wooden high-backed booths, and “the mustard can change your life,” says one local. For special occasions there’s fine
dining at the Inn at Pleasant Lake.
COULD YOU SHOP HERE?
First Impression: You’ll find an idiosyncratic magazine selection at Morgan Hill Bookstore; a gifty selection of jewelry, clothing, and handcrafts at Artisan’s; and a farm stand on Main Street—Spring Ledge—that’s like a breath of spring, with a pretty greenhouse, local breads, pies, and PYO flowers.
The Reality: The Art of Nature is like a woodland nymph’s living room masquerading as a gift shop. Step through the artfully draped bittersweet vine engulfing the doorway and contemplate the bits of moss, mushrooms, Buddhas, and antlers adorning the walls—an expression of Mauli McDonald’s unleashed woodsy creativity. Then, if you’ve got the will to continue along Newport Road, you’ll encounter, in short order, the New London Shopping Center, with Clarke’s Hardware, a corker of an old-fashioned store. (Motto: “What you need. How to do it.”)
First Impression: Colby–Sawyer College is in your backyard, with its lifelong “Adventures in Learning” program. Or sign up for regular classes; sweet fumes wafting from the sugar “shack” by the library will tempt you to go for “The Science of Maple Sugaring” (Environmental Sciences department).
The Reality: This pretty brick liberal-arts enclave, founded in 1837, opens its library to town residents for a small fee—and the silo entrance and broad-beamed, light-filled space subvert all traditional notions of a library. Or you can enjoy workouts and swim through the winter months with a membership at the ultra-modern, 63,000-square-foot Hogan Sports Center.
GETTING YOUR BEARINGS
Lake Sunapee Region Chamber of Commerce
328 Main St. 603-526-6575; lakesunapeenh.org
The New London Inn
An 18th-century giant that rambles through town, with 23 rooms, a restaurant, and a tavern.
At the far end of town, the New London Barn Playhouse packs in audiences with summer-stock classics. And the New London Hospital benefits from a recent $20 million transfusion, with a proposed affiliation with Dartmouth–Hitchcock in the works. Its boisterous Annual Hospital Days event is 90-year-old proof that “laughter is the best medicine,” with rides, games, music, and a triathlon. Additional cultural events in the Lake Sunapee region, including music, dance, and gallery nights, are sponsored by Center for the Arts, based in New London: centerfortheartsnh.org